YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Third-ranked South Dakota State scored 35 points in the second half, overcoming a sluggish start to defeat Youngstown State, 38-28, Saturday night at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Jackrabbits improved to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. YSU, ranked 17th by the Football Championship Subdivision coaches and 19th in the STATS FCS media poll, lost its second game in a row to fall to 4-2 overall and 0-2 in league play.
After SDSU scored on a 36-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri on the opening drive of the game, the Penguins held the upper hand for the remainder of the first half. Quarterback Nathan Mays scored on runs of 28 and 1 yards, while the YSU defense recorded three sacks and knocked down a handful of passes.
Compounding the Jackrabbits' first-half woes were eight penalties for 90 yards.
SDSU began to right the ship early in the third quarter with a big play from its defense. Logan Backhaus deflected a Mays pass into the waiting arms of Don Gardner, who returned the interception 42 yards for a touchdown that brought the Jackrabbits to within 14-9. The two-point attempt failed.
The Penguins pushed their lead back to two scores at 21-9 as Mays dumped a short pass to running back Joe Alessi in the left flat, who then rambled 45 yards for a touchdown.
The Jackrabbits then found their rhythm offensively, putting together a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Redshirt freshman quarterback J'Bore Gibbs connected with Adam Anderson on pass plays of 13 and 16 yards early in the drive, with Anderson later drawing a pass interference penalty in the end zone. On the next play, Gibbs scored from two yards out.
SDSU took the lead for good on its first possession of the fourth quarter. Taking over at its own 9 after a punt, Pierre Strong, Jr. ran for 10 yards before Gibbs hooked up with Cade Johnson deep downfield for an 81-yard touchdown pass. Johnson then passed to Blake Kunz for the two-point conversion and a 24-21 Jackrabbit lead.
Following a DyShawn Gales interception at the YSU 44, the Jackrabbits quickly cashed in as SDSU gained all 44 yards on the ground – 40 of which were by C.J. Wilson, including a 13-yard touchdown run.
YSU drew back to win a field goal at 31-28 with 2 minutes and 54 seconds remaining as backup quarterback Joe Craycraft found Miles Joiner behind the Jackrabbit defense for a 17-yard touchdown pass on third and goal.
With all three timeouts remaining, YSU opted to kick deep. The Jackrabbits took over at their own 25, converting a key third-and-7 as Jaxon Janke muscled his way to the Penguin 36 after catching a short pass from Gibbs. Facing another third-and-long, Gibbs sealed the SDSU victory with a 63-yard touchdown run around right end, picking up a key block from fullback Luke Sellers on his way to his second rushing score of the night.
Gibbs completed 14-of-26 passes for 210 yards and also finished as the Jackrabbits' leading rusher with 75 yards on 12 attempts. Janke caught four passes for 32 yards, with Johnson adding three catches for 93 yards.
For YSU, Mays completed 14-of-24 passes for 176 yards and carried 13 times for 58 yards. Alessi was the Penguins' leading ground-gainer with 72 yards on 17 carries.
Overall, the Jackrabbits held a narrow 423-412 advantage in total offense.
Christian Rozeboom, who recovered a fumble in the second quarter, paced the Jackrabbit defense with a game-high 13 tackles, followed by eight stops from fellow linebacker Logan Backhaus.
Cash Mitchell led Youngstown State defensively with 10 tackles.
The Jackrabbits wrap up their two-game road swing at Indiana State on Oct. 19. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. Eastern Time (noon Central) at Memorial Stadium in Terre Haute, Indiana.
SDSU leads the all-time series, 14-7, and has won 10 of the 12 meetings as MVFC opponents
The Jackrabbits improved to 36-43 against ranked opponents since moving to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2004
SDSU has trailed at halftime in each of its last two games
Vinatieri improved to 17-of-17 on field goals between 30 and 39 yards in his career
The interceptions by Gardner and Gales were each the first of their careers
Gardner's pick-six was the second interception return for touchdown by the Jackrabbits this season (Christian Rozeboom vs. Southern Utah)
SDSU has intercepted a pass in all six games this season and 12 of 13 games dating back to 2018
Rozeboom's 13 tackles were a season high and marked the 21st time in 46 career games he tallied double digits in stops as he went over the 400-tackle mark (411) for his career
Johnson's 81-yard touchdown reception matched a career long (81 yards at Illinois State in 2018)
Johnson took over sole possession of fourth place in career touchdown receptions at SDSU with 25, breaking a tie with JaRon Harris (24 touchdown receptions from 2005-08)